$54,000 in rebates on rent stolen by woman

By Sandra Conchie

A Te Puke woman has admitted stealing more than $54,000 in rent rebates over eight years after repeatedly failing to tell her Housing New Zealand landlord that she had a partner.

Kathleen Maree Collier, 44, pleaded guilty to 11 charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage in Tauranga Community Magistrate's court yesterday - each charge attracts a maximum sentence of seven years prison.

The charges stem from Collier's completion of 11 applications for rental assistance between January 2005 and December 2011, resulting in an overpayment of $54,480.

Collier originally denied her offending when questioned by a corporation investigator.

Collier's guilty pleas come on the heels of the Government's announcement that it plans to crack down on the partners of welfare cheats by a law change which would make them also liable for prosecution. Under the proposed law change they could face a year in jail or a $5000 fine.

Earlier this week, Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows announced three new initiatives to clamp down on relationship fraud in the welfare system believed to cost the Government more than $20 million a year.

Mr Burrows said a new offence will be created to target partners or spouses of beneficiaries who are convicted of fraud.

"Currently there are few options available to prosecute partners who know or benefit from such offending, leaving the entire debt with one partner," he said.

Prosecuting partners who benefited from welfare fraud would ensure both parties who profited from the crime were punished, and the debt could be split between the two offenders, and recovered more quickly.

The Social Development Ministry would also be given extended powers to seize partners' assets in order to recover costs, he said.

In addition to the law change, tougher rules would be introduced for beneficiaries who had been dishonest in the past.

Three-quarters of the people who were charged with welfare fraud in the last financial year had previously ripped off the ministry.

These "low-trust" beneficiaries would have more restricted access to self-service transactions and would face more rigorous verification of their personal information.

The ministry would also formalise information sharing with related agencies such as ACC, Inland Revenue, Housing New Zealand and the police.

Collier has been remanded on bail pending sentencing in Tauranga District Court on April 11.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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